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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Musica sacra per alto"

Delphine Galou, contraltoa; Alessandro Giangrande, tenorb; Alessandro Tampieri, violinc
Accademia Bizantina
Dir: Ottavio Dantone

rec: Jan 2018, Bagnacavallo, Convento San Francesco (Sala Oriani)
Naïve - OP 30569 (© 2019) (59'57")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto a due cori for violin, strings and bc in D 'per la SSma Assontione di Maria Vergine' (RV 582)c; Deus tuorum militum (RV 612)ab; Filiae maestae Jerusalem, Introdutione al Miserere (RV 638)a; Non in pratis, Introdutione al Miserere (RV 641)a; Regina coeli (RV 615)b; Salve Regina in g minor (RV 618)a

Elisabeth Baumer, Rei Ishizaka, recorder, oboe; Luca Marzana, Jonathan Pia, trumpet; Alessandro Tampieri, Mauro Massa, Lisa Ferguson, Mmaria Grokhotova, Ana Liz Ojeda, Heriberto Delgado, Maria Cristina Vasi, violin; Diego Mecca, Alice Bisanti, viola; Mauro Valli, Paolo Ballanti, cello; Nicola Dal Maso, violone; Tiziano Bagnati, archlute, guitar; Ottavio Dantone, harpsichord, organ

In the baroque era, high voices were preferred, especially in secular music, such as chamber cantatas and opera. Many of these parts were to be sung by castratos. In the first half of the 18th century, a substantial part of sacred music bore the traces of secular music, for instance in the importance of vocal virtuosity and, indeed, the dominance of high voices. However, women played an increasingly important role in secular and sacred music. Women did not sing in churches, but in private chapels and other institutions which were not under the authority of the church, they were involved in performances of sacred music, both of liturgical and of extra-liturgical music. That was certainly the case in the Ospedale della Pietà, the institution in Venice, where female orphans received a thorough musical training, either in the playing of instruments and/or in singing. Antonio Vivaldi, who for a long time was a teacher at the Ospedale, composed a considerable number of his instrumental works, including virtuosic solo concertos and sonatas, for pupils of the Ospedale. A part of his vocal output was also written for them, which explains the scoring for high voices of some of his psalm settings.

At the same time, Vivaldi wrote music for performance elsewhere. The most famous example is his Stabat mater, which he composed in 1712 for a church in Brescia. Because of that it is not always easy to decide, for what kind of singer his sacred works were intended. As this was written for a performance in a church, it seems plausible to assume that it was to be sung by a male alto, probably a castrato. However, Vivaldi composed his motet In iustissimae irae, for instance, during the carnival season 1723-24 in Rome, and as the text is neither biblical nor liturgical, it may have been performed at the palace of a musical patron rather than in a church, and that opened the possibility of a performance by a male or a female soprano.

. In his early years as maestro di violino at the Ospedale, Vivaldi did not compose any sacred music, as this was the task of the maestro di coro, a position which was held by Francesco Gasparini since 1701. His earliest sacred music was written for performance elsewhere. However, in 1713 Gasparini left his post, and it was only in 1719 that Carlo Luigi Pietragrua was appointed his successor. In the meantime, Vivaldi wrote the music for the choir, and he did so again in later periods between the departure of one maestro di coro and the appointment of the next.

The present disc includes several compositions for alto. Two of them, both written around 1715, are intended as introductions to performances of Miserere mei Deus, the most frequently performed of the seven penitential psalms, traditionally sung during Lent, and especially during Holy Week. The introdutioni are close to the motet, but have a different structure. The motet comprises two arias, embracing a recitative, and closes with an Alleluia. The two introdutioni open with a recitative, which is followed by an aria. It closes with another recitative, which leads to the Miserere. The recitatives of both introdutioni end with the word "miserere". Unfortunately, no setting by Vivaldi of this text has been preserved. We even cannot be sure that he ever composed one, although it seems very likely. One wonders whether it would be possible to find a Miserere in the oeuvre of one of his contemporaries, just to show the function of such an introduction. A possibility could be the setting by Giovanni Porta, maestro di coro from 1726 to 1737. It is in C minor, also the key of Filiae maestae Jerusalem; Non in pratis is in F major, but ends with a cadence in C minor. The texts of the arias in the respective introdutioni are very different. The one in Filiae maestae Jerusalem has no religious connotations whatsoever, and could equally be part of a secular cantata. The aria in Non in pratis, on the other hand, specifically refers to the Passion of Christ.

Salve Regina is one of the four Marian antiphons; this particular one was sung from Trinity Sunday to the last Sunday before Advent. Vivaldi's oeuvre includes four different settings; here we hear the one in G minor. The ensemble of strings and basso continuo is split into two choirs; the first choir is joined by the alto soloist and two oboes. Vivaldi divides the text into six separate arias; the oboes only participate in the fourth. In the opening aria, he makes use of the ritornello of his Concerto in g minor (RV 319) for violin. This may have inspired the performers to include another violin concerto, one of several written for a religious occasion, this time for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15 August. It may have been performed at the opening of a Mass or Vesper service. The tutti are split into two choirs; in the catalogue of Vivaldi's works, the Concerto in D (RV 582)is ranked among the concertos for double orchestra. The solo part was intended for Anna Maria, known as Anna Maria dal Violin. Her skills come to the fore in a unique manuscript: a part-book in her own handwriting, including 31 concertos.

This disc also includes two pieces with parts for a tenor. One of them is Deus tuorum militum, which is a Vesper hymn that belongs to the Common of One Martyr, the part of the liturgy used for all male saints and martyrs. It was probably written in the 1720s and is an alternatim composition: Vivaldi only set the stanzas 1, 3 and 5. The others were probably expected to be performed in plainchant, but here they are entirely omitted. The two voices are accompanied by strings and two obbligato oboes. The disc ends with the Marian antiphon Regina coeli, which was sung from Easter Sunday to Trinity Sunday. Unfortunately Vivaldi's setting of the first two lines has been lost. What we get here is the remainder of this work, the last two lines set in the form of recitatives, with concluding Alleluias. The scoring is for a high tenor, for some reason called a contralto in the track-list. According to Michael Talbot, in his liner-notes, the high tenor register was cultivated by several of the Pietà's singers. As this was an institution for girls, we have to conclude that this part was sung by a girl. From that angle a performance by Delphine Galou would have been more logical, provided the part is within her tessitura.

This disc does not comprise all of Vivaldi's music for solo alto. The best-known pieces, the Stabat mater and Nisi Dominus are excluded. That makes it all the more attractive, as these are very well represented on disc. Having said that, I would not mind hearing Delphine Galou in those two works, as she has a wonderful voice, which rightly has earned her much praise since her appearance on the scene. She is a real contralto, with a strong and firm depth, but her voice is also flexible and she sings with great stylistic awareness. This is definitely one of the best discs with vocal music by Vivaldi that has appeared more recently. I hope to hear more from her, also in Vivaldi. Alessandro Giangrande does well in the tenor parts. Alessandro Tampiero is the skilled soloist in the violin concerto. The Accademia Bizantina is one of the best Italian baroque orchestras, which under the direction of Ottavio Dantone avoids the eccentricities of some of the competition.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Delphine Galou
Alessandro Giangrande
Accademia Bizantina

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